Women’s Labor and Employment in Turkey: Problem Areas and Policy Suggestions



The Women’s Labour and Employment Initiative Platform (Kadın Emeği ve İstihdam Girişimi Platformu, KEİG) presented a report to public on 17 April 2009, “Women’s Labour and Employment in Turkey: Problem Areas and Policy Suggestions”. We think that the statements and the suggestions are very significant and leading. Also with their permission, we publish the report summarizing. You can find the full text in their KEIG’s web site

The economic crisis that started in 2008 in developed countries has since turned into a global depression by influencing developing countries too. The effects of the economic crisis show themselves as a big breakdown in production and a noticeable increase in unemployment. We are in a period in which there are not enough satisfactory clues regarding the improvement of the economy, and the duration and scope of the economic crisis.

While it is expected that the economic crisis will create millions of unemployed people and intensify poverty, women will be one of the most affected groups from the situation. We think that a specific approach for women is needed, not only because of the economic crisis, but also because of the sexist structure of economics. The existence and growing intensity of gender inequalities and maledominated structures are two main preconditions of making profit in this economic system. Women are subject to oppression and inequality, both at the workplace and in the family. Consequently, KEIG has prepared this report to question women’s place in economic life, to determine the problems and to recommend solutions, at this very time of economic crisis.In this report, below statements were made concerning women’s employment in Turkey:

This report was prepared together with 27 civil society organizations, which compose the KEIG Platform and are working on women’s labor and employment. KEIG aims to design policies in its mandate and to advocate them at the local and national levels together with its member organizations.

The neoliberal system surrounding our lives for the past thirty years has finally brought the world into economic turmoil, the duration of which is indefinite as is the extent of havoc it will create The current crisis of this unequal and destructive system has resulted in the dreadful increase of unemployment and poverty on a global scale. As know, women employment in Turkey is below % 25.

Funds allocated from the state budget to public services is further limited during times of crisis, which results in intensified volumes of care services to be laid upon the shoulders of women. Also, as family incomes get lower, women undertake these services, which are available in the market because they are no longer affordable. As a result, while spending more of their labor on housework and care services, women become bound to accept any job that may provide an income just to compensate for the decrease or lack of men’s earnings.

In this study, as the KEIG Platform, we have availed ourselves of the experiences and knowledge of women’s movements in Turkey and abroad, and aspired to determine the fundamental problems, especially in the economic sphere, in order to take a step towards the eradication of all kinds of structures, relations, laws and implementations that engender discrimination against and domination over women.

Main Problem Areas

  • Women’s employment in rural areas
  • Low level of women’s employment in urban areas
  • Unregistered employment
  • There is a huge pay gap
  • Exclusion from social security
  • Male-dominated structures of unions exclude women

Policy Suggestions

As KEIG, we tried to state the problems and the obstacles for women in the work place. In order for the women labor to be visible and for women employment to be increased, we ask the related minister in the first place, and all other NGOs to take action. And we list our suggestions:

1. Ensure gender equality should be adopted as the fundamental principle of Development Plans, and it should be linked to quantitative and qualitative targets within the development axis and sectoral priorities.

2. Authorities should act in accordance with the target of ensuring gender equality while maintaining both financial and monetary policies, and medium-term programs, mediumterm financial plans and annual plans should be redesigned to this effect.

3. Special budget items should be included in the budget for active measures to transform sexist structures.

4. Implementation results should be evaluated and audited continuously by independent monitoring mechanisms.

Gender budgeting is essential for equality

Gender sensitive analysis of all income and expenditures should be done, and preparation of gender sensitive budgets at all levels should be provided for ensuring gender equality.

Employment strategies should be prepared

Creating new employment areas and ensuring that they are open to women is one of the basic responsibilities of the state and the private sector. In this regard, active employment policies devoted to the mitigation of unemployment should be formed, and a comprehensive women’s employment policy should be incorporated. A plan that is comprised of concrete and time-limited targets should be done to implement these policies in a timely manner. Related institutions and mechanisms should be provided with enough funds and human resources, via allocated fundsfrom the budget, to make them able to implement the equality policies that will be determined.

In addition, employment policies should consider income inequalities between regions. New steps should be taken in order to make rural women’s labor visible; to increase the schooling rate of female children in rural areas; to ensure equal access of women and men to land ownership, new techniques, loan opportunities and markets; and to support and increase the number of women’s cooperatives by including a gender approach to these policies.

Public and private sector institutions should develop active mechanisms that will ensure the questioning and transformation of gender-based discrimination that women are subjected to in every aspect, such as employment, vocational training and promotion, to ensure gender equality and to struggle against all kinds of discrimination. Labor relations in the Labor Code should be defined to include an “engagement process” to eliminate discrimination during the recruitment process.

Sexual harassment should be prevented

There is an urgent need for institutional structures devoted to preventing gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment at the workplace to be developed and maintained. The scope of the Labor Code should be expanded to include the ban of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, along with gender-based discrimination.

Working conditions should be improved

The scope of the Labor Code is very narrow with regard to women’s employment; the necessary regulations should be put in this code, not only for increasing women’s employment, but also for improving working conditions. In this regard, women working temporarily and for a daily fee in in-house services should be covered by the code.

An Agriculture-Labor Code should be urgently introduced, and this code should be prepared with a gender approach. An objective job classification system for wages to be based on should be developed in order to be able to implement the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. A minimum wage should be determined for dependent home-based workers, too. Legal regulations and mechanisms that make home-based workers able to declare and enroll themselves as home-based workers should be formed, and the inclusion of these workers in the social security system should be ensured.

Positive discrimination should be implemented

Positive discrimination should be implemented until a balanced structure between women and men in working life is established; the state should encourage the implementation of positive discrimination.

Women’s representation in unions should be ensured.

Laws no. 2821 and 2822, which block unionization, should be amended. These current laws block unionization with their regulations on the threshold for obtaining the authoritization for a collective labor agreement and they almost make it impossible to strike.

Federations of worker’s unions should make structural arrangements that will provide for gender equality within their institutional structures. These arrangements should be determined by statute. The ratio of women in administrative positions of unions should be increased via temporary special measures. Demands and policies regarding women should be included in the policies and papers of unions on issues of organizing, collective labor agreements, education, law and external relations.

Women should be considered when designing the policies regarding organizing. Women should be employed to organize women workers with regard to the principle of “persons organize persons who are similar to them”. Unions should set up a budget to be used for activities related to the organizing of women.

The Law on Unions should be amended to provide the right to be a member of unions for all workers, including unregistered workers. Unions should struggle against exploitation, together with unregistered workers, rather than seeing them as a competitive element.

Policies regarding reconciliation of work and family life are urgently needed

Because of the sexist approach that “women are responsible for the housework–family–care of children, men earn money out of the house”, women typically never participate in the labor force, or they do all the work in-house without sharing with any family member even when they participate in the labor force. This unequal division of labor is an important reason for the labor force participation gap between women and men, for some branch of professions to be closed to women, for pay gaps and for low representation of women in administrative positions and unions.

We do not accept such working conditions that put women in a work-family dilemma in the name of providing equality. We ask that the workload within the family, a vast amount of which is shouldered by women, should be undertaken by public services. Our demands regarding the reconciliation of work and family life can be classified under three headlines:

Maternity leave: The implementation of maternity leave should be complemented with “paternity leave”, and it should be provided for families to look after their babies at least for six months after child birth, within the scope of a paid leave implementation. On the other hand, implementation of in-service training – which will make it easier for women to adapt to changed working conditions after they return from maternity leave – by employers, should be ensured and it should be guaranteed that women will work at the same or same value position after maternity leave.

The Labor Code should be amended with regard to this issue.

Working hours: When long working hours are combined with the “second working day” of women at home, women may decide to leave their jobs. Working hours should be shortened for all workers to make them able to allocate time for their private lives and families.

Arrangements regarding services: The responsibilities of women and men should be reconsidered with a gender equality perspective, and mechanisms should be introduced to transform the existing mentality. In this context, the responsibilities shouldered by women, such as care for children, the elderly and the ill should be accepted as social responsibilities to be undertaken equally by women and men, and these services should be provided via allocating public and private sector resources.


From Amargi- Issue 13

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